Employers’ responsibility to protect outside workers from heat stroke

15815507_sThe summer months generally bring higher temperatures and increased humidity to Nevada, and the rest of the country. Exposure to the hotter weather and direct sun, in addition to other factors, can cause serious heat illnesses, including heat stroke. The symptoms of this potentially fatal condition include confusion, collapsing, having seizures, ceasing sweating and passing out. For outside workers, who often perform heavy physical labor with little reprieve from the heat, the risk of suffering heat stroke can be significantly increased. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 alone, more than 4,000 workers became ill as a result of heat-related conditions, and more than 30 died.

What can employers do to prevent heat stroke?

Under state and federal workers’ compensation laws, employers in Nevada, and elsewhere, are generally required to provide their employees with a safe workplace. For outside workers, this includes taking steps to prevent heat stroke. According to the Occupational and Safety Health Administration, some of the ways employers can help keep workers safe include:

  • Scheduling frequent breaks to allow workers to drink water and rest in an air-conditioned or shaded area.
  • Providing workers with plenty of water and easy access to that water.
  • Regularly checking on workers, particularly those who are at an increased risk for suffering a heat-related illness.
  • Allowing workers to wear, or providing them with, protective and cooling clothing.

Furthermore, it is also essential that employers provide training about heat-related hazards and educate workers on how to prevent these types of illnesses. Failing to take steps to prevent employees from suffering heat-related illnesses may, in some cases, be considered negligence on the part of the employer.

How can employees protect themselves and others?

In order to protect themselves from heat stroke, outside workers are encouraged to wear loose-fitting clothing that is light colored and lightweight. It is also important for those who work outdoors, or in other high temperature workplaces, to drink plenty of water, as well as avoid drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol.

Additionally, it can be helpful to workers to use a buddy system to closely monitor themselves and their co-workers for signs or symptoms of heat-related illnesses. Blocking out direct sunlight, when possible, as well as other sources of heat can also be useful in preventing heat-illnesses.

What should employers and co-workers do if someone suffers a heat stroke on the job?

If a worker seems to be confused, is not alert or is displaying other symptoms of heat stroke, it is important to call 911 right away for emergency assistance and notify the employee’s supervisor. Ice bags or towels should also immediately be applied to the worker to help bring down his or her body temperature. The worker should be moved to a cooler, or at least shaded, area while waiting for help to arrive. It can also be helpful to fan or mist workers suffering from a heat illness and provide them with cool water to drink, if they are able.